Students gathered in Thorne Hall Feb. 23 to watch the annual production of Apollo Night, a talent show that closes out the Black Students Association’s (BSA) events for Black History Month. Organized entirely by BSA, Apollo Night showcased a range of performances, from song and dance to slam poetry.
The winners of the talent show, Chance Ward (senior) and BSA executive board member Anastasia Cusack-Mercedez (sophomore), received cash prizes of $100 and $50, respectively. Ward, who came in first place, performed a rap they wrote, and Cusack-Mercedez performed a raw ballad while playing the piano.
There were group performances as well. Pulse, one of the school’s dance companies, started the show with a hip-hop performance. Spice, a dance group specifically for women of color, elicited shrieks of excitement and amazement from the audience. Waruguru Waithira (junior), a choreographer and dancer in Spice, said Apollo Night has a special role in student empowerment.
“[The choreographers of Spice] wanted to create a space for women of color to feel beautiful and sexy,” Waithira said. “Women of color, especially women of Afro-descent, are disrespected continuously and compared to ‘others’ quite often when it comes to behavior and beauty standards. This was a space for us to reclaim our confidence and sexiness.”
Darla Howell (sophomore) and Ogo Ikefuna (junior) hosted the event, introducing each performer and telling jokes to the audience. They created a call-and-response chant with the audience; Howell would say “black is,” and the audience would respond: “beautiful!”
“When people talk about blackness or black history, a lot of it is rooted in negativity, or overcoming some sort of struggle, or racism,” Howell said. “[It] is a big part of our history, but there’s also so much more to black history. There’s fun, there’s liveliness, there’s dancing, there’s being together as a group. I think we close [February] with [Apollo Night] because we are trying to end on a positive note.”
Apollo Night can also be a way for students to feel more incorporated into the Occidental community, according to Howell.
“I remember I performed for Apollo Night when I was a first year, and afterwards I was like, ‘I’m a part of Oxy’s campus!’ So for any first years performing, I hope they have that same sense of camaraderie,” Howell said.
To Lena Stern (junior), Apollo Night is a tradition.
“It’s one of my favorite events that Occidental has,” she said.
For other audience members like Nasira Pratt (junior), Apollo Night is an annual celebration that reaffirms the call and response chant — “black is beautiful.”
“Apollo night was so fun, as usual, and the black excellence [of both performers and audience members] was amazing and inspiring,” Pratt said.
Photo by: Katja Livingston